Khushi Vaid, New Delhi
“In the middle of youth, this summer was ours”
Youth is filled with rowdy friendships and passionate love, which helps our long-life shine ahead. Nothing lasts forever however the verity that we were once piece of these forever’s. You don’t always end up with your first love, you change, you grow, you forget and move on, albeit the people you meet will always be part of who you are now. The unfeigned realness of the main characters, including the supporting cast, makes it much easier to put ourselves in their shoes, to perceive the essence of “youth” and “growth.”
Starring gorgeous Kim Tae-ri as Naa Hee-do and personable Nam Joo-hyuk as Baek Yi-jin, with second main lead includes stunning singer and actress Kim Ji-yeon as Ko Yu-rim, who is also a member of South Korean-Chinese girl group WJSN, popularly goes by her stage name ‘Bona’, alongside charming Choi Hyun-wook as Moon Ji-woong and beautiful Lee Joo-myoung as Ji Seung-wan, the 2022 South Korean Television Series “Twenty-Five Twenty-One” also known as “Seumuldaseot Seumulhana” (Korean: 스물다섯 스물하나) is one of its kind, a masterful poignant portrait of youth, this is one of the few K-Dramas which has definite power to allure person of every generation. The direction of this ‘Coming Age Drama’ is done by Jung Ji-hyun, the award-winning director who is also responsible for giving us such heartwarming dramas like ‘You are my spring’ and ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’ to name a few, with the script written by writer Kwon Do-eun. It premiered on tvN on February 12, 2022, and was on-air till April 03, 2022, and aired every Saturday-Sunday at 21:10 (KST) for 16 episodes. It is also available for streaming on Netflix.
Each episode begins with a glimpse into the life of Na Hee-do’s (Kim Tae-Ri) daughter, Kim Min-chae (Choi Myung-bin) who is a high school student and a ballet dancer. Min-Chae avoids her mother’s disappointment after pulling out of a dancing competition, she flees away to her grandmother’s (Seo Jae-hee) house and comes across her mother’s diary from 1998, which chronicles the commencement of the main storyline.
A teen fencer Na Hee-do pursues high ambitions and meets a determined young man Baek Yi-Jin who strives to repair his life back in a time when IMF Crisis in 1998 almost threatened their dreams. Na Hee-do is a member of her school fencing team at Seo jung Girls High School, due to the IMF crisis, her team is forced to get disbanded. Hee-do is persistent in continuing her fencing and gets herself transferred to Tae Yang High School where her idol Go Yu-rim also studies and is already a fencing champion. Gradually she befriends Moon Ji-Woong who is a member of his school musical band, and is appreciated for his good looks and melodic voice; alongside Ji Seung-wan who is a very intelligent class topper plus student representative and also secretly runs a rogue radio show as DJ Wan-seung, both childhood best friends. Simultaneously we see Baek Yi-jin with a rough start, already struggling enough due to the crisis which separated his family, albeit he promises to bring his family back together, as the elder son, he performs various part-time jobs to save up. Na Hee-do and Baek Yi-jin meet for the first time when they were 18 and 22 and eventually become boon companions.
Na Hee-do gives her best in the first Face-off. Concurrently, more of Baek Yi-jin’s situation comes to light, how he’s been suffering alone and still trying to give his all, she takes a step forward to cherish him and takes him to her old school where they enjoy each other’s company. Hee-do’s recklessness, purity and determination remind him of his teenage glee days when he was free, fierce and full of zeal. We foresee a glimpse of their deep budding relationship of friendship and gradually love from this picture.
Go Yu-rim’s substandard living compels her to perform her best in Fencing as she solely depends on it. Finally, after rigorous training, Na Hee-do makes it to the National Team. With the leap of 3 months, we get to see a new version of Baek Yi-Jin, who looks a little mentally stronger and prepared for his future endeavours. One fine day finally Baek Yi-jin finds his way back towards Hee-do amid the IMF protest crowd.
Hee-do wins her 1st Gold Medal but a frustrating media narrative dampens this monumental moment of hers, this breaks Hee-do’s heart but not her surety. Baek Yi-jin chases down the only person who would be able to set things right for Hee-do. Such few more instances between them, where they show utmost sensitivity and affection towards each other give air to a new emotion of “Love”; meanwhile Yu-Rim’s perspective on Hee-do shifts so does her behaviour and their relationship. Yi-Jin under the guise of work takes Hee-do and Yu-Rim on a weekend getaway with Seung-wan and Ji-woong. This squad of “25-21”, reminds us of Reply 1988 squad, too warm and beautiful, the understanding, friendship and bond these five leads share in the drama is beyond words.
Surprisingly, this is amongst the very few of the K-Dramas which have openly talked about School Corporal Punishment and how still it’s been practised by many teachers under the name of autonomous school policy, during this segment we see Seung-wan’s character as the most courageous and bold one.
A new millennium approaches, creating more space for love and affection between Yi-Jin and Hee-Do. Albeit this blooming love Yi-Jin worries about his professional role affecting his personal feelings, but he’s ready to risk it all for Hee-Do as she is his support system, he finds hope within her for himself, and they heal each other by being content together.
It gets suspenseful when Min-chae is not able to find her mother’s next diary, which leaves the story dated back to 2009. The way Yi-Jin and Hee-Do look at each other shows their love is not over yet, the silence they shared speaks volumes, the story takes a twist when Yi-Jin congratulates Hee-do. Again with the relapse over time, Yu-Rim takes a big step to resolve her family’s difficult financial situations. Both Hee-Do and Yu-Rim reunite in the finals of the 2001 International Tournament.
Baek Yi-jin and Na Hee-do’s turnover when they were aged 25 and 21, presents more significance to the series title. Hope and Support were the pillars which changed their Rainbow into Love, these things that helped them get to where they’re now. There comes a package in a brown envelope for Hee-Do (Kim So-hyun) in the future. Hee-Do thanks Yi-Jin for standing by her side as she grew up alone. Yi-Jin, in reply, thanks her for supporting him through the tough times. Their 25-21 belonged to each other!
What Makes the drama 25-21 Special
25-21 teaches us about ‘Adulting’ and ‘Growth’, how precious youth is- it’s precious because it’ll only be a phase, it’ll be the only time where passion and friendship are the only things that matter, that’s why you have to treasure it. As we age, the more we realize how hard it is to do the things we used to do and how to manage our priorities.
There are brief moments in our lives that will be carved in our hearts and we will cherish them forever. Don’t be sad it ended, be happy because it happened. Time changes, people change, relationships change, the only thing permanent in this world is impermanence itself and this is the bittersweet reality of life.
This drama indeed was a masterpiece, life isn’t always about pleasant endings and breakups don’t always mean that the love has ended. It still prevails however who knows in some other form! Na Hee-do and Baek Yi-jin will always be special to each other and us.
What do you think about this K-drama? Tell us in the comments.